The ongoing saga concerning the blogger known as the Legal Schnauzer took another turn last week when the woman who won a $3.5 million default judgment against him for defamation told a national magazine how the online attacks had made her life miserable.
Jessica Garrison, who managed Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange’s 2010 campaign, told Marie Claire magazine how numerous articles written by Roger Shuler and posted on his Legal Schnauzer site had caused her personal and professional damage, even leading her to fear she was being stalked. She eventually sued Shuler and won a $3.5 million default judgment against him after he failed to appear in court. He has claimed he was never legally served notice of the trial.
Garrison’s article appeared on marieclaire.com last week. At first, she writes, she just tried to laugh off Shuler’s accusations that she had been involved in a lengthy affair with Strange. Shuler also wrote numerous unflattering stories about Garrison’s ex-husband, Lee Garrison, as he ran for the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education. Shuler also published stories on his blog alleging Jessica Garrison received a sweetheart deal on the purchase of her home and questioning the sources of her pay. Garrison said Shuler even questioned the paternity of her son in print, an allegation he denies, although he has written about discussing the matter with Lee Garrison.
“Never have I reported that Luther Strange is the father of her child. In fact, I contacted Lee Garrison and interviewed him on the subject. He said he was convinced the child was his, and I never reported otherwise,” Shuler wrote last Friday in a scathing rebuke of the Marie Claire article. He didn’t explain why he would call the child’s father to discuss paternity if it wasn’t something he questioned.
Shuler claimed Garrison’s article is full of inaccuracies and falsehoods, and reiterated claims her legal win against him came only “because I was not able to defend myself against her lawsuit, or bring a valid counterclaim” due to having been thrown in jail for five months for contempt in another defamation case, then finding his house in foreclosure due to other legal problems.
When I emailed Shuler asking for comments on Garrison’s article, he referred me back to his website.
Speaking with Garrison last week, she said the reason she decided to talk about her experience is to help others understand the effects lone wolf bloggers like Shuler can have on others and the rather low threshold of proof they appear to have before publishing something as potentially damaging as allegations of an affair.
“The effect of one stroke of the keyboard is amazing,” she said.
Garrison talked about how even though she has won a judgment against Shuler, the posts continue to haunt her professionally. Even when she recently was in Portugal on business, Garrison said, the person she met with had Googled her and then asked about Shuler’s articles.
Garrison said the issue of bloggers engaging in their own brand of “journalism” — a brand where Constitutional protections are pushed to the limits to attack those in the public eye — is one that is becoming more of a national subject. Asked how she thinks the issue should be handled, Garrison said she has thought about it a great deal but still doesn’t have an answer. Laws requiring licensing of journalists or other methods of trying to curb the Schnauzer and others of his ilk would likely come with unintended consequences that could harm the creation of new media outlets, she said.
“We are a free country,” Garrison said.
But as more and more bloggers fill the web with “journalism” that displays wildly varying degrees of ethical standards, accountability and verification, it seems likely the subject is going to be more widely discussed. Garrison said the National Lawyers Association will soon be conducting a panel on the matter, and she has been asked to join the discussion.
“This guy is particularly bad,” she said. “A lot of people have called me with their own Shuler stories.”
Garrison said she is fighting to have Google remove searches that would take people to Shuler’s stories about her. With the defamation judgment against him, she hopes that will soon happen. As for collecting any of the $3.5 million award, Garrison laughed and said she hasn’t gotten a dime and never expects to since Shuler’s various run-ins with the law, loss of employment and foreclosure on his home have left him with little money.
“We told him if he would take the articles down and apologize to the people involved, he could satisfy the judgment for $1, but he wouldn’t do it,” Garrison said.
Meanwhile, according to his own posts, Shuler was involved in another legal problem in Missouri, where he and his wife, Carol, moved to ostensibly avoid more troubles in Alabama. He claims they were forcibly evicted from their apartment and in the process deputies broke his wife’s arm. He also says his two brothers have filed to have Shuler and his wife declared incapacitated.
“I guess that’s what we do now to journalists who report on uncomfortable truths — first jail, now this?” Shuler lamented on his site.
A tightening horse race?
Lagniappe received an early peek at some of the ratings numbers coming from the new Code Readers being used in this market to determine how many boob tubes are tuned into local channels, and the early results at least are pretty tight.
The numbers are far from complete. They only offer ratings and not shares, and are not broken down into specific time slots, but still offer a view of what it might look like when all of the numbers are released later this year.
For instance, in July, Monday-Friday prime time for the age 25-54 demographic shows WPMI with a 3 rating, WALA and WKRG each with 2.6 and WEAR with 2. For May, that same demographic has WKRG at 4, WEAR at 3.8, WALA at 3.3 and WPMI at 3.2.
In May’s prime-time ratings for Monday-Friday in the 18-49 demographic, WKRG had 3.3, WEAR 3.2, WALA 2.9 and WPMI 2.5. That same demo for July has WPMI with 2.4, WKRG with 2.1, WALA 2 and WEAR 1.6.
If anything, the early trend seems to be a big tightening between the stations, but again, the numbers are early and not complete.
The Code Readers electronically keep track of what viewers taking part in the survey are watching versus the old method of using a diary to manually write down what they watched. So far, across the country, many markets have seen the disparity between first and last tighten considerably.